Garbage Flowers

Garbage Flowers by M.G.

O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous…
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

(This passage is from the Gospel for yesterday. It is from the Book of Luke, Chapter 18.)

My friend Matthew took the above photo, Garbage Flowers,  on his way to his bus stop for work last week. When I look at it, it makes me think about the beautiful things we create and our attempts to share them with others. This image lingered in my mind yesterday when I went to an early service at a Methodist Church to hear my friend preach. Afterwards, my husband and I went to Mass at our parish. Because both followed the lectionary readings of the day, I got to hear the same Gospel reading twice. Above is an excerpt from the Gospel. It goes on to say that we’re not supposed to spend our time thinking of all the ways we’re more awesome than the next person and envying them for their success.  Garbage Flowers and this admonition to not be a “playah hater” merge in this blogpost.

I’ve made a couple of short documentaries in the past year. They are not perfect. I know that.  I am not a perfectionist. The worst part of perfectionism is that people allow themselves to be intimidated and afraid to the point that they will not let their work be seen by others. I have a relative who is a talented artist but doesn’t want others to see what she’s drawn. I have another relative is plain and simple, really good at what he does so he writes many plays each year, all of which are performed publically. I’m not as good at my art as he is, but I’m also not afraid to put it out there, like she is.  I created these films and decided to take the next, bold step of submitting them to film festivals. Each film has been accepted to one festival apiece so far. Each has been rejected from a handful of festivals as well. I’m waiting to hear back from a few others and of course, I hope they are selected.

In the meantime, another film has come to my attention. I’m in search of benchmarks as I wonder how I’m doing in this new-to-me endeavor, so I’ve been checking out the stats on this other film. I realize it is not a good practice and I need to stop doing it. It is like comparing apples and oranges. Our films are not in competition and they are two different things. However, Mamma Mia! It has the support of hundreds of people, almost two dozen organizations and a well-known Hollywood personality. When I learned all of that, I let it bother me because it got a lot more financial support than what I gathered for my films before jumping in.

When I try to temper that comparison and focus on my gratitude instead, I think about this:

I spent about $2000 (including $1000 given generously from National Catholic Sisters’ Week) and yes, had lots and lots of awesome people come forward to offer me other kinds of (non-financial) help along the way. People offered me places to sleep, generously took me out to lunch and kindly introduced me to the women who were featured in my films. Not only that, but many of the women featured in my films were recruited at the last minute. For example, I stayed with a friend in Philadelphia who discerned that it was not her time to be interviewed, but she told the women she lived with and as a result, I got to interview them and they are in it. This happened again and again along the way. I have so much more to be grateful for than to be envious of. About 10 people took a look at it before I released it, giving me much-needed pointers and tips. A musician from Scotland composed the music for one of the films, scoring it from beginning to end. He did this for the love of doing it and did not ask for any money. People came from all directions to help bring these films to life.

I get worked up when I think about this other film (just as the Gospel reading depicts someone getting worked up over other people) because the film uses the personal stories of several people to thrust forth its own agenda.

This is where the Gospel reading really hit a chord with me. As I compare my project with theirs, I get annoyed and angry and, yes, even envious. But, this Gospel reading tells me to get over that and to focus on my own stuff.

When I shift my focus away from this other film to my own work, I can reaffirm my commitment to work ethically.

My agenda for these films is to tell the stories of women who serve the poor. When you make a documentary, you realize there is a great moral task at time. There is a great ethical factor in every decision you make. Imagine you have 1 hour of footage from an interview you did with someone. The person is comfortable with you and likes you, so they speak freely after a while, as though they are speaking right to you. The camera is situated so that it is off your shoulder a bit. That way, they can talk directly to you, which allows them to relax and be open an honest, while the camera is right there, recording it all in an unobtrusive way. When you sit down to take a look at the footage, you realize the power you have in your hands. You can snip together pieces of an interview to fit any agenda you have in mind. In one interview I did, the person, as part of our friendly banter at the beginning, told me about some of the foods she did not like in a particular place where she once lived. This is a simple example but it illustrates the decision that must be made. Do I want the 3-4 minutes of this woman to be marked by this comment? It was made in an innocuous way as we were making conversation. However, it can be used to such an effect that it makes the speaker look like a jerk who complains. Of course, I did not use that footage, but you see my point about how easy it is to be the puppeteer. Anyhow, these kind of ethical decisions are made every time you piece together an interview.

When I shift my focus from seeking accolades…

The last thing I want to talk about is recognition, accolades and awards. I was fortunate enough to attend the two film festivals my two films have been accepted to so far. It was so awesome to sit in the audience and hear peoples’ reactions. I enjoyed answering their questions afterwards and yes, accepting their compliments. I hope to do this a few more times with each of these films. I also know that accolades cannot be my main goal. I guess the main goal is to create something beautiful and to release it into the world. I guess we don’t really have control over how many people see something or how they react to it, including the people who review films and make selections for festivals. I wanted to make a film which documents the stories of religious women (aka nuns) who serve the poor. I wanted them to tell their own stories, in their own ways. Out of the 1 or 1.5 hours of footage I gathered from each woman, I selected the story each one told which brought out the most emotion in her. I even have a hunch that this is something I’m supposed to be doing for the next few years, collecting their stories and packaging them in such a way that the rest of us can hear them and be motivated to serve the poor as they have.

What does this have to do with St. Francis of Assisi?

tra1Well, every post, movie, book, meme and video I make has something to do with St. Francis of Assisi, sometimes overtly. In this blog post, I think that there is a place for Francis’ admonitions to not be too hung up on our things. That even means the things we create-one’s “brainchild” for example. I think we can be excited about the stuff we create and put a lot of work into but that ultimately we have to let it go and let others do with it what they will.

I don’t know if this blogpost makes sense to anybody else out there. If it does, I’d love to hear about your own experience with this stuff (being envious, getting over yourself, filmmaking). Thanks for taking the time to read it, in all its glorious imperfections, and yes, you can make the Garbage Flowers your screensaver if you’d like.


Connection between Strength & Bravery

This past weekend, I got to represent one of my two documentaries at a film festival 10 hours from home. After the awards ceremony (my short documentary was beat out by an interesting one about the Loch Ness Monster of the Finger Lakes. If I have to lose, I like to lose to sea monsters!) I had a short conversation with a guy in a Yankees cap about creating movies and his response was so enthusiastic that I thought I ought to record the gist of it here so I can come back to it. Maybe it will speak to you. I know I am talking to myself as I give this advice.

The guy in the Yankees cap was there because his friend (a breakdancer!) had a film in the film festival.He told me there are two documentaries he has always wanted to make. He wants to make one about his cousin who lost his sight when someone shot him with a gun. He wants to make another movie about the people in his neighborhood who have to eat,

sleep, raise their kids, commute to work, walk their pets and do their shopping while surrounded by gangs and gang violence. Both of these subjects he knows and is close to in a way that many people are not. He told me he was afraid to make the film about his cousin because there are people who would do it better. I told him that he’s the only one who can make those movies. He may not have $10,000 worth of equipment and a $100,000 film school education (or a $1,000,000 film budget which, unbelievably, some independent films have) but, as someone in my film Energy of Nuns says, “They aren’t there.” Sometimes we are the only ones who can do something. In this case, “they” aren’t interested or able to make these films. This guy is.  He nodded and saw that maybe this is a calling. In my own experience of 42 years on earth, many of them spent listening to other people, I believe that a calling can be identified when it is something (truly good and beautiful) that we feel drawn to do while the vast majority of people would not go near it with a 10 foot pole (for example: do you want to be a social worker in the field of pediatric hospice?). He liked what I said and called that advice “a win.” He told me that little nudge of encouragement makes him recognize he has the capability of doing these projects and most importantly, the desire to do them. That is bravery right there. Bravery is NOTHING more than recognizing our strength. Sure,  we like to conjure up these mythical creatures we refer to as “they” as in “they would make a better film than me” or “they might not think this is good enough” but most of the time, there is no “they,” there is only you.

tr latin 2I learned recently that in Latin, the word for “brave” is the same for the word for “strong”- fortis.  The reason I know this now is that my husband, who is so encouraging and supportive of me, knows that I often let myself be stymied by fear when it comes to taking on new projects through Franciscan Passages. I suggested we come up with a little phrase or word to come back to so we can “name it and claim it.” I looked up the words for strength and for bravery since it seems like what I lack at times is bravery and my husband assures me I already possess the strength I need. When  I saw that “fortis” can mean either strength or bravery, I saw their connection. As my encouraging husband reminds me, I am strong. I have varied life experience, travel and education to draw from. I have good people around me, the love and support, a good track record and plenty of references after six years of giving presentations, putting together a book, putting together two movies and other projects through Franciscan Passages. So to be trbrave is simply to recognize strength that is already present. Pope John Paul II reminded us thousands of times that we should not be afraid. That advice resurfaces throughout the Old and the New Testaments. God knows we are full of fear. But he also made us so he knows our strength. Fear can be replaced by bravery and bravery gives us the confidence to go ahead and start something. For me, this means taking on new projects, looking at things that have been done by others and figuring out how to make them more accessible to more people. I can make a long list of things I am not and excuses for why I want to procrastinate on starting something but all of that comes from fear, not bravery. For some people, perfectionism serves as the perfect disguise for their fear. They pretend that they will take on this project or that project sometime way in the future when they have all the right tools or when the timing is just right or when the weather is right. So, perfectionism is the enemy of creativity and bravery can overcome even perfectionism…if you let it.


What does this have to do with St. Francis of Assisi?

At the end of his life, as his brothers were anxious about St. Francis’ dying, knowing they would miss his advice and guidance and leadership, he told them “The Lord has shown me what is mine to do and may he show you what is yours to do.” What freedom he gave them! He did not instruct them to carefully follow his every footstep, to emulate him or try to be a copy of him.  He knew that each person, in their uniqueness (remember, God loves us individually, in our uniqueness, not just as humans in aggregate) has something to offer to others.So, quit making excuses, and go do what is yours to do.